Believe it or not, the 2022/2023 season is now well more than half over. Your Phoenix Suns are in the thick of a tough battle for playoff position. If the Suns are indeed making a push down the stretch, and it certainly looks like they intend to, then every game does in deed count the exact same.
But we all know some games mean more than others. That’s just the way it is. And with the bulk of the schedule behind us, here are (in chronological order) what I think are the seven “biggest” contests remaining for the Suns:
@ Boston Celtics, Feb. 3.
The Celtics look like a solid bet to repeat as Eastern Conference champions, sitting several games on top of the conference standings. They boast two bonafide prime-age stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, surrounded by a group of gritty veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Smart who know how to play defense and know how to win. It’s getting ahead of ourselves to note that this could be an NBA Finals matchup if the Suns were to get that far, but it’s a major test of how the Suns, at this point, compete on the road against an elite team.
@ Brooklyn Nets, Feb. 7
Much the same idea as the Celtics game here. The Nets are in strong playoff position, and when fully healthy with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both firing on all cylinders have as much offensive firepower as any team in the league. The depleted Suns triumphed over the Durant-less Nets Jan. 19, but the road matchup next month could be a true test of the Suns’ mettle, especially if both clubs are back closer to full strength.
Los Angeles Clippers, Feb. 16
The Clippers have had some struggles this year after once again starting the season as one of the oddsmakers’ favorites to win it all. But despite a lot of missed time from their two over-30 stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers are in the playoff hunt. With Kawhi heating up a bit (27 points per game on 65% true shooting in the month of January), the Clippers could be a team the Suns get to see in the postseason. The Suns will see the Clips again for the final game of the season, but that game may be less telling as one or both teams may sit starters, depending on the standings.
@Milwaukee Bucks, Feb. 26
Again, see Celtics and Nets. Top East team, on the road. Can the Suns win? There remains the added factor of the feelings left from the 2021 finals, which I’m willing to bet a few Suns players haven’t forgotten and which I KNOW many Suns fans never will.
@Golden State Warriors, March 13
Too many fans (yours truly included) discounted the Warriors last season. And while I still believe they aren’t a top NBA team anymore, they’re still capable of being very dangerous in a postseason series because the team’s core is just a bunch of winners with a ton of playoff experience.
Philadelphia 76ers, March 25
Another top east team and potential finals foe for the Suns to measure themselves against. The Sixers also have the added dimension of including what one could say is a mild personal rivalry between Deandre Ayton and Joel Embiid. Assuming both guys are still healthy and playing for these two teams, it’s always an interesting time to see these two big, athletic, and talented guys go head-to-head.
Denver Nuggets, March 31
This is game #77 of 82 on the schedule, against a team currently atop the Western standings. It seems perfectly plausible that the Suns’ road to the finals runs through Denver. The Nuggets are in arguably the top form this iteration of the club has achieved, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has added a nice 3&D dimension to the Nuggets’ starting five, which obviously lives and dies by its all-world center Nikola Jokic who is once again in the running for league MVP honors.
Like with the Clippers, the Suns will get a final clash with the Nuggets on April 6, which is game #80 for both teams. But just as with the Clips, it’s unclear how “all in” the Nuggets especially might be for that one. If they’re more than two games on top of the standings, I’d expect their top players to play sparingly in that one, if at all.